Sunday, July 16, 2006

Geologic Mnemomics

Before I get stuck in, I’d like to interrupt this blog to plug a women in science survey promoted here. It would be a great place to complain about the inappropriateness, in a gender-neutral discipline, of the lewd and irreverent memory tricks that are described below.

Back to mnemomics.
For a scientist, I have the world’s leakiest memory. So I get a kick out of these things. After all, if I read enough stupid sentences, then maybe, possibly, one or two of them will sink in.

So, starting with the big picture, there is the spectral sequence for stars.


For the past 50 years, this has been immortalized by various science fiction writers. I think Larry Niven is one of them, but please correct me if I'm wrong. Their classic line is, of course,

Oh, Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me.

That was fine for the 50’s, but a Canadian academic has suggested that in this day and age, on most university campuses, the phrase should probably be supplanted with

Only Boys Accepting Feminism Get Kissed Meaningfully.

For my brain, the less tasteful phrases are generally more memorable. Which is why I appreciate the universally offensive:

Oedipus, Basically A Friendly Guy, Knew Mother.

Scaling down, there is a famous mnemonic for the 9 planets, but my perverse brain can only recall,

My Very Endearing Mother Just Shot Up Near Prison.

I might have misremembered that one.

But enough astronomy. On my first ever geology field trip, the departmental trip to Lake Champlain in fall of 1991, we had a very long van trip from Rhode Island. I remember only two things about that trip. The first is that Katie Stanbury was in my van. The second is that we, including everyone else whose identity now eludes me, made up a mnemonic for the geologic time scale. Starting with the Precambrian, and using the old-fashioned American system, we decided that

Polonius Called Ophelia Stupid Daily. Meanwhile, Peter Pan Told Jesus Christ To Quit.

Subdividing the Precambrian into the Archean and the Proterozoic allows one to lead with Angry Polonius...

Two years later, Gayle Gleason, one of the best geology teachers I’ve ever had, subdivided the Cenozoic by teaching us that:

Pigeon Egg Omelettes Make People Puke.

Of course, an ideal mnemonic would allow the memorization of the entire periodic table. The first three rows are easy:
Harpies Heal
Little Bed Bugs Can Not Ovulate For Neophytes
Naked Mongols Always Slide Past Scantily Clad Argonauts.
But once you hit the transition elements, the 18 elements per line gets rather complicated. Nobody will ever remember:

Kilt-Clad Scandinavians Tickle Very Cruel Men; “Feel Cold Nipples!” Cursed Zen-Grappling Germans, As Swedes Bribed Kraken.

I tried to go on, but ran out of gas at Antimony, after realizing that I would have no chance at getting anything for Xenon, three elements later.

Fortunately, we don’t need to. Since the table is in fact a table, and not just a list, all we really need to do is remember which column things are in (usually discernable from their charge), and then just remember those columns. The only tricky bits are the Group VIIIa elements (Feel Cold Nipples, Rude Rhyming Paladins, Oswald Irked Patrick), and the rare earth elements. But the latter are easy, given a suitably crass Lanthanide mnemonic:

Lazy Cesar Praised Nude Prometheus, Smooching Europe’s Gaudiest Tubercular Dykes Hopelessly. Eros Tempted Yobbos Luridly.

Lame, I know. But what else can be done with Yb? At least the REE’s aren’t boring anymore.

If any of you folks have a favorite or useful geologic mnemonic, please post it in comments.

edit: The entire periodic table is here.


yami mcmoots said...

Xena! Also Xeriscape, Xenophobia, Xerox (even a rock pun there for the taking)...

C W Magee said...

Xena? We can do Xena. Just give me a few hours to type less-than; B; greater-than 184 times...

BTW, I should add that the process of making one of these things up is probably a lot more conducive to learning than actually memorizing somebody else's. Whether it is Gaudy Tubercular Dykes or God's Tuba Dynamo, the process of looking up silly words is what makes it easy to remember the relative positions of Dysprosium and Terbium.

Chris R said...

The mnemomic we got given for the geological periods went:

Camels Often Sit Down Carefully Perhaps Their Joints Creak. I'll leave to you the question of what the omission of the entire Cenozoic says about my lecturers...

C W Magee said...

I would view the omission of the precambrian as a far greater defect for two reasons. First, the Precambrian is much longer. Second, it is less boring.

Anonymous said...

Precambrian Elephants Can't Offer Such Delightful Comfort; Perhaps They Just Chundered; Perhaps Elephants Of Massive Palaeontological Periods Hibernated!

Unknown said...

The mnemonic that I heard (not original to me) for the rare earths was:

Lazy College Professors Never Produce Sufficiently Educated Graduates To Dramatically Help Executives Trim Yearly Losses

C.Nissen said...

Lately College Parties Never Produce Sexy European Girls That Drink Hard, Even Though You Look.

neptune said...

For Geological Time periods of paleo- and Mesozoic, I use this one:
Can Our Science Dept Make People Pass. They Just can't.
or, Come On Stupid, Don't Make Pointless Presentations.
For Moh's scale of hardness:
Tall Girls Can F*** And Other Queer Things Can Do.
Finally for REEs:
La-ncey Pr-ince Needs 65 Sm-all Eu-ropean Gods Tobe Wholly Dy-ed Early Tomorrow. Why-be Lu-dicrous?